Julia Denes from Woodfolk
Julia Denes is the founder of the incredible Woodfolk - a store filled with beautiful, stylish jewellery, accessories and homewares made ethically from honest, natural materials.
This interview with her about why she started, who made the pieces and the hardships that come with running a business is just as beautiful as her products.
What made you start Woodfolk?
As a designer and jeweller by trade, I have 10 years’ experience creating Fine Jewellery for prominent Jewellery houses around Australia and for private clients. I loved working with metal, diamonds and gemstones but at some point, started to feel drawn to more natural materials for example wood and ceramics. Combining this new found appreciated of these materials with my love of all things natural and ethical, I launched Woodfolk in August 2013.
Woodfolk has given me the opportunity to express my creativity and apply my trade in a more authentic way, with inspiration coming from nature, my travels in third world countries and collaborations with the artisans I work with and their cultures. I’m proud to say that Woodfolk is now stocked in more than 70 stores around Australia, and over the last 4.5 years has developed a strong and loyal following.
What is something others wouldn't know about starting an ethical business that you think they should?
I feel that starting an ethical business goes beyond just financial success. Of course, a prospering business is important as it supports you to continue and grow, however an ethical business runs deeper and gives you the opportunity to make social changes in this world. You’d be surprised at how much more important that becomes. For me that’s where I get excited and inspired to keep doing the work I’m doing.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
Initially before launch, I found it a challenge to find the right people to work with overseas. I could have easily gone somewhere like China, India or Bali to work with a factory, not even needing any face to face contact, however that defeated the purpose of my business. I wanted to make it more personal and was looking to work with a family or an organisation that I respected. I chose Nepal because it felt like a good fit and I had always wanted to travel there. After doing months of research on materials available and skills of the local people, I booked a month-long trip there to give myself plenty of time.
The wonderful thing about Nepalese people is how open they are to helping you. From when I arrived, I found that they always made time to meet me, would always take my request seriously and if they couldn’t help, would provide details of someone that might be able to. I followed my instinct which eventually led me to exactly who I was looking to work with.
Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'who made my clothes?'. In the scope of Woodfolk, who made your accessories? Can you tell us a bit about them?
I am a passionate advocate for supply chain transparency. I’m a big believer that transparency is just as important as the design and the designer. From start to finish, one item might touch the hands and use their skills of 20 people and every consumer has the right to know where their items are truly coming from. Understanding transparency lifts the veil on brand’s practices and consumers can factor in their behaviour as a global citizen into the purchasing decision to support the movements.
Woodfolk works with artisans in Nepal to handmake our pieces from natural materials, a path I chose as I wanted to know exactly who would be making my products and know that they would receive fair pay for their efforts. After learning about Nepal, an impoverished yet culturally rich nation, I travelled there in 2013 to find artisans to work with. I feel very privileged to be working with the most lovely, talented Nepalese family to make our Wood pieces. They are of Newari culture from Kathmandu Valley, and have been woodcarvers for generations. Through our partnership and as Woodfolk grows, more job opportunities have been extended to other members of their family and community.
Having travelled to Nepal on two further occasions since 2013, I have developed a strong relationship with a Womens’ Co-Operative that hand make our scarves, bags and cotton pouches, which we use for packaging. Working with women-focused and social enterprise organisations aligns with our values and as we grow, we can provide more work, the Co-op can train more women, and in turn, provide opportunities for women to hone their craft, learn new skills and make money independent from their husband or partner. This is empowering to Nepali women as they can broaden their skill set, as well as support themselves, contribute to their family’s finances and provide future opportunities for their families.
We seek to demonstrate a fairer alternative to businesses seeking trade with third world countries by partnering with small family-run businesses and Women focused organisations, not exploitative sweatshops. Our relationships in Nepal are built on trust, equality, fair trade and a long-term goal of bringing meaningful change to their lives, creating opportunity, self-determination, support and hope to these communities through social entrepreneurship.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Its hard to pick just one, but at the moment ‘it’s all about the journey not the destination’ is relevant for me, particularly in more challenging times. It really puts things in perspective and helps me to appreciate all the learnings and ebbs & flows that come with running your own business.
One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Spend as much time as possible researching before you start. I spent over a year on my business before I launched and I would do it again in a heartbeat. During that time, there’s no rush, no pressure and it can be a enjoyable, inspiring experience spending that time carving out a special and unique business for yourself.
Where do you envision Woodfolk in the future?
The next year will see the launch of a brand-new collection in August/September, which will include beautiful wood and ceramic jewellery and homewares. Having had a baby late last year, we’re also looking to include 100% cashmere baby blankets into our ongoing range. We’re also looking at the possibility of doing a pop-up store in Sydney later in the year, so stay tuned!
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
I feel I’m inspired by different things each day. It could be a person, someone I know personally, someone I work with or someone I read about; it could be a moment walking in nature or a sudden surge of courage; it could be something visual eg. a colourful flower, a beautiful photograph; a lovely interiors; and every now and then its music, a song that I connect with straight away and play over and over again.
Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I do have a morning meditation routine that I do ideally before I speak to anyone or jump online. It helps me to start my day in a positive way and reminds me that today is a new fresh day, even if it was a disaster the day before. Oh, and I also have a giant healthy smoothie for breakfast, which I love!!
One book everyone should read? Why?
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Trust me I know its long, however that book has so much gold in it. The story is quite beautiful and the characters, their heartfelt relationships and their trust in the journey I find very inspiring.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers our there in your world that you think people should know about?
Yes, there are so many amazing people doing amazing things. I’m very inspired by ethical clothing designer Laura Seigel – her documentary Traceable is a must; New Zealand based Gosia Piatek from ethical brand Kowtow clothing; I also love the work of Shannon Sheedy from Dharma Door; and Carly Nance & Rachel Bentley from ethical store The Citizenry.
If you loved this interview and want to checkout Woodfolk for yourself, you can do so here. While you're at, follow along on Woodfolk's journey via your favourite social media platform - Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.